The Church and Pope John XXIII
As a large and worldwide institution, Roman Catholicism could not be unaffected by the events of the 1960s. As mentioned in Chapter 3, the church found itself in relatively calm waters during the days after World War II. In the United States this sense of calm was illustrated in two different ways. First, popular religiosity, as exemplified in various devotions to saints, Eucharistic adoration (Forty Hours Devotions), and Marian devotion (such as the rosary), was widespread. Catholics, who freely chose to center their activities about their local parish, were very happy to “pay, pray, and obey.”
Historians suggest John XXIII was elected by the conclave as an interim pope. Elected at age seventy-six, the cardinals saw him as a safe noncontroversial man who would maintain the basic policies of his predecessor. It seems, however, that John's previous international experience as nuncio in various countries prompted him to see the need to consider updates of church policy.
The tranquility of the church, along with the rest of the society, was broken by the 1960s. On October 9, 1958, Pope Pius XII died and was succeeded by Angelo Roncalli, Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, who took the name John XXIII. The contrast between the two men typified the movement of society and ultimately the church at this time. Pius XII was perceived as a rather stern and staid man who held the church together during World War II and the Holocaust. Change or a belief in openness was not consistent with his personality. John XXIII, on the other hand, possessed a bubbly and gregarious personality that was attractive to many and seemingly open to new ideas. Nonetheless, it was a shock to all when on January 25, 1959, at the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Pope John announced his desire to call an ecumenical council. Believing that the postwar church needed new solutions to contemporary issues, John believed the answers could be determined by the council rather than by edicts from the Vatican.